For some French Jews, the terrorist assault on a kosher supermarket in Paris last week was the last straw.
They had remained steadfast for years despite frequent anti-Semitic taunts, beatings, mob attacks and firebombing of synagogues. But the incident on Friday made them realize that the situation is only getting worse, and that they are putting themselves and their loved ones at risk by staying in the country.
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One young rabbi, who refused to be identified, told French newspaper Le Figaro that he does not know whether he will reopen his synagogue.
“It’s not even panic, it’s worse, ” he said. “The people of the community do not dare leave their homes.”
Last week’s violence was the worst spasm of terrorism in France since the 1954-62 Algerian War. At least 17 French citizens were killed, first in a massacre at the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper, and then in a roadside shooting on Thursday and two standoffs on Friday.
“The Jew isn’t safe in France, ” Daniel Corcos told the Wall Street Journal. “You go to buy food, and you’re dead.” Corcos said he has already bought a home near Tel Aviv and sent his children there. “If you think a lot of Jews left France last year, this year the number is going to be five times higher, ” he said.
Early Friday afternoon, Islamic militant Amedy Coulibaly, armed with AK-47s and explosives, entered the Hyper Cacher supermarket that was bustling with customers ahead of the start of the Jewish Sabbath. He opened fire before quickly taking hostages including women and children. After a tense standoff, security forces raided the store, killed Coulibaly and freed the hostages. Four customers, who were shot by the gunman at the beginning of the assault, lay dead.
“We’re very shocked, ” a resident of Paris told the New York Times while watching the hostage drama unfold from behind police lines, “because this is France, which means liberty and fraternity, and today we don’t have that anymore.”
In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 News, one of the released hostages said he was considering either buying a gun to defend himself or immigrating to Israel.
France leads the world in home-grown anti-Semitism. According to a survey last year by the European Jewish Congress and Tel Aviv University, France had more violent anti-Semitic incidents than any other country in 2013. Jews were the target of 40 per cent of all racist crimes in France even though they comprise less than 1 per cent of the population, The Guardian said.
An undercurrent of anti-Semitism frames French life, with attacks on Jews rising sevenfold since the 1990s. Synagogues have been firebombed and Jewish areas have been attacked by mobs, with almost of all these attacks carried out by Muslims, according to The Guardian.
About 500, 000 Jews live in France, making it Europe’s largest Jewish community and the third-largest in the world. But it seems that the number is gradually declining.
Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, tweeted that “Every single French Jew I know has either left or is actively working out how to leave”.
The BBC’s Katie Razzall noted on Friday that many French Jews were unwilling to be interviewed on camera, fearing for their safety. “From conversations we’ve had it’s clear that around the Sabbath tables tonight they’re asking whether France is still a place they can call home, ” she said.
On Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement, saying “All Jews who want to immigrate to Israel will be welcomed here warmly and with open arms.”